Bay County couple free to sue cops over entry
A Bay County couple accusing a police officer of unlawfully entering their home and arresting their son can continue suing the officer, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The lawsuit stems from a 2013 scuffle involving the family and Bay City Police officers, a scuffle that turned into a four-year legal ordeal that serves as a social media cautionary tale.
“Parents often tell their children social media can cause problems,” a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a court filing Tuesday. “This case is proof of that.”
Two Bay City officers arrived at the Essexville home of Dennis and Linda Brenay on Nov. 30, 2013, because their son Dennis Brenay Jr. was accused of violating a personal protection order by sending texts and a Facebook post to his ex-girlfriend, according to court records.
A scuffle ensued that ended with the son arrested, handcuffed and, apparently, hit by a Taser.
Father and son were charged with obstructing a police officer, a felony, but both prevailed at trial.
After the trial, Dennis Brenay Sr. and Linda Brenay sued the officers, accusing them, among other things, of illegally entering their home.
The officers, however, won after mounting qualified-immunity defenses.
The couple appealed, arguing the officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights protecting against warrantless searches.
“The government is not your nosy neighbor — the one who always pokes her head in, uninvited, to critique your garden or gossip about the couple down the street,” the judges wrote Tuesday. “Sure, the police, like any Girl Scout, may approach your door, knock, and ask you a question or two. But the Fourth Amendment draws a ‘firm line’ at the door.”
The appeals court judges noted that they do not know exactly what happened at the Brenays’ front door. But accepting the account most favorable to the couple, “a reasonable jury could conclude (the officer) violated the Brenays’ clearly established rights by entering their home without any warrant, consent, or exigency,” the judges wrote.
Whether the officer violated the couple’s constitutional rights is an issue that can be argued at trial, the panel wrote.
On appeal, the couple dropped an excessive force claim. On Tuesday, the panel concluded the couple forfeited a malicious prosecution claim against both officers, leaving an unlawful entry claim against one of the officers.